Agenda item

2023/0911 Former BHS, 81 Commercial Way


[NOTE 1: The Planning Officer reported that there was a slight typographical error within the Committee report. Where it referred, at paragraphs 152, 236, 247, 253 and 346, to the ‘Chobham Road Island’ scheme (ref: PLAN/2023/0835), on the directly opposite side of Church Street East to the north, as being up to 12 storeys in height, this should instead read up to 11 storeys in height.]


[NOTE 2: The Planning Officer reported that since the report had been published a letter of support had been received from Surrey Chambers of Commerce.]


[NOTE 3: The Planning Officer reported that since the report had been published the applicant had provided an update on the number of affordable dwellings which were: twelve one-bedroom dwellings, eight two-bedroom dwellings and eight three-bedroom dwellings.]


[NOTE 4: In accordance with the procedure for public speaking at Planning Committee, James Simondson attended the meeting spoke in support of the application. There were no other registered speakers.]


The Committee considered an application for the demolition of existing building and redevelopment of the site to create a residential-led development comprising up to 272 apartments (Use Class C3) and up to 550 sq.m. of retail and commercial floorspace (Use Class E) at ground level, shared residential amenity spaces, building management facilities, plant space, refuse and cycle stores, in a building which ranges in height from a single storey ground floor (with mezzanine in the central block) to a ground floor with a maximum of 25 storeys above. Works to create new public realm within and highway works to Church Path, Church Street East, Chobham Road and Commercial Way, including alterations to and provision of new parking, servicing and delivery bays (Environmental Statement submitted).


Councillor A Javaid, Ward Councillor, wanted to voice some concerns about the application which included the height of the building and lack of parking provision. Councillor Javaid referred to the ‘Masterplan’ when talking about the proposed height of the development; the Chairman reminded Councillor Javaid that the Masterplan was not adopted planning policy and therefore carried no weight what so ever in the consideration of this application.


Following a question the Planning Officer confirmed that the number of disabled parking spaces was equivalent to the number of dwellings that would meet category M(4)3 of the Building Regulations.


Following a question about the percentage of affordable dwellings that would be provided, the Planning Officer confirmed that 10% [28 no. dwellings] were being offered by the Developer as affordable, which was short of the 20% usually required by the Planning Practice Guidance. It was confirmed that this offer had gone through an external viability assessment which had confirmed that the 10% offer made by the applicant was reasonable. In addition to this the proposed development was ‘build to rent’ which was not covered in current policy within the Woking Core Strategy (2012), so overall the offer had been considered acceptable by the Planning Officer following input from the external viability consultant and having regard to the Planning Practice Guidance.


In response to a question, it was confirmed that there was no specific mobility scooter parking. However there was a cycle store and it was noted that all dwellings were accessible.


Following an explanation from the Planning Officer around the terminology of ‘less than substantial harm’ in heritage terms, the Committee were advised that the Crown Place Appeal decision was material to this application. The Inspector had deemed the Crown Place application to have a ‘less than substantial’ level of harm on Christ Church which would be outweighed by the public benefits of that development; this application was closer, but the harm was still considered to be ‘less than substantial’ by Officers following input from an experienced external Built Heritage Advisor. There were also the benefits of landscaping and planting, which would replace  the current loading/parking area off Church Path, which would have a positive effect on the heritage setting of Christ Church. It was noted that Christ Church also had extant planning permission for extensions that were contemporary and modern, so this should be taken into consideration also.


Councillor T Aziz, Ward Councillor, commented that this was an ambitious application, and although it was a reduction in height from the previous application, he did not think it was acceptable on the site in its current form. Councillor T Aziz commented that because another application was approved on Appeal, he did not think that should mean the Committee had to support this application, which he thought would have a significant impact on the character of the area, with its bulk and mass. Councillor T Aziz also thought the parking provisions (including disabled parking) was lacking.


Councillor T Aziz proposed and it was duly seconded by Cllr S Oades that the application be refused on the grounds of bulk and mass, that its benefits did not outweigh the ‘less than substantial’ harm caused to the heritage of Christ Church,the War Memorial and the Woking Town Centre Conservation Area and thelack of sufficient parking provisions (including insufficient disabled parking).


Councillor S Oades asked that the grounds of ‘lack of affordable homes’ be added to the motion to refuse. Planning Officers reminded the Committee that the provision of affordable homes had been independently tested by a viability consultant and that 10% provision in this case had been deemed acceptable. This reason for refusal would be difficult to defend on Appeal.


The Planning Officer commented that the recent decision to approve the Technology House application on Appeal, would likely impact the ability to defend parking as a reason for refusal at any potential Appeal. This application was in a central location and located close to town centre car parks in which residents could purchase a season ticket if they wished to.


Planning Officers asked that Members be clear on how this development would impact the heritage assets and what harm would be caused. This was a subjective matter, but Members were asked to weigh up whether the benefits outweighed the harm. Some Councillors thought that the development would dominate the appearance of the Church and War Memorial and therefore cause harm.


Members were keen that a combination of reasons were cited in the reasons for refusal and these were not watered down. Beverly Kuchar commented that Members were entitled to refuse matters on the grounds that they choose, however Officers were there to advise on the technical details of a scheme and to explain what they thought could and could not be defended at any potential Appeal.


Following a question around a representation raised by Network Rail, the Planning Officer commented that Planning Officers had met with Network Rail and had asked Network Rail for evidence/ justification that a financial contribution should be made to them by the Developer. No further communication had been received from Network Rail and in the absence of any evidence, no financial contribution could be secured from the Developer on this basis.


Following a question from the Chairman about outdoor amenity space, the Planning Officer confirmed that this was covered in the report and that part of the Community Infrastructure Levy contributions that the development would have to make could be used towards new and/or improved off-site amenity space..


Kuldip Channa, Solicitor, informed  the Committee that Officers were obliged to provide advice  on the risk of potential costs being awarded against  the Council at any potential Appeal and reputational harm which may follow. She advised the Committee that whilst a potential costs award against the Council was not a material planning consideration, it was prudent to provide legal advice to Councillors in that if they were minded to refuse the Planning Application they should have robust Planning reasons for refusal which could stand up to the scrutiny of an Appeal.  .


Councillor T Aziz proposed and it was duly seconded by Cllr S Oades that the application be refused on the grounds of bulk and mass, that its benefits did not outweigh the ‘less than substantial’ harm caused to the heritage of Christ Church,the War Memorial and the Woking Town Centre Conservation Area, lack of sufficient parking provisions (including sufficient disabled parking) and lack of a Section 1016 Legal Agreement to secure mitigation of impacts on the Thames Basin Heaths SPA and to secure affordable housing. .


In accordance with the Standing Order set out in the Constitution, the Chairman deemed that a division should be taken on the motion to refuse the application.  The votes for and against refusal of the application were recorded as follows.


In favour:                           Cllrs T Aziz, S Oades, C Martin and T Spenser.

                                 TOTAL:  4

Against:                             None.

                                 TOTAL:  0

Present but not voting:      Cllr L Morales (Chairman)

                                 TOTAL:  1

The application was therefore REFUSED.




That the application be REFUSED.


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